Persona Creation Process Redesign


To analyze the process of creation and usage of personas in Cengage’s Agile software development teams with the outcome of a more streamlined, role-defined, and effective process for persona creation.


Through a series of interviews and observations of the Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO) product development team at Cengage Learning, our team analyzed the company’s current methods of creating and implementing personas in their projects.
We conducted contextual inquiry to explore both the mechanics and sentiments within the company as they relate to personas. In particular, we worked with the User Experience (UX) team, the department that creates the personas used on all of Cengage’s projects.
In the end we made recommendations regarding persona creation, storage, use, and acceptance within the organization.

My Role (What did I do, learn)

I was involved in the entire course of the project in all the phases. I participated in 3 out of 9 interviews we conducted at Cengage. In the later part of the project I was involved in interpretation sessions, interview feedback sessions, affinity wall session and final findings presentation to the clients.
I learnt a great deal in this project not just with contextual inquiry and modeling but also with team dynamics and project management.

  • The entire project was not just about finding problem and providing solutions. It was more about getting to know the entire organization, its work process, culture, communication methods, strategies, and how work is done.
  • If collection of information is an important step in contextual inquiry, analyzing the data collected from interviews and interpretation sessions was equally essential in realizing the goals. Based on my previous experience as a consultant I was aware of the importance of maintaining client relationship. But acting as a main client liaison equipped me with more tools and communication practices to be followed with clients.
  • Overall this project provided me with ample opportunities to equip myself with skills of professionalism, team dynamics, team compatibility, and group work efficiency, which I will carry into my professional life ahead.

Design and Methodology

We approached this project through methods of contextual inquiry. After creating an initial set of questions our next step was to complete a series of interview with various members of the NCCO team. We met with nine individuals involved with product development or persona creation. These interviews were accomplished over a span of five weeks in September and October 2011.
After each interview our team performed interpretation sessions, breaking down the data collected into models and sets of affinity notes. The complexity of the organization and the unique role played by personas in the product development process led to dynamic methods of modeling to represent the information gathered. We focused on creating a larger model for each interviewee that reflected the communication, processes and relationships most integrated with the personas.
Due to the lack of traditional hierarchy within the organization and to the diversity of positions held by our interviewees many of the assigned models had to be altered or replaced to accommodate their fluid organizational structure and the multitude of tasks involved. After completing the interviews and individual models we consolidated the information into models with broader scales that addressed the culture of the organization, the persona artifacts and processes for developing a project and using personas.
The notes taken during each interpretation session were broken down into individual pieces and recombined into an affinity wall. This helped us identify patterns and themes within our aggregated data that were not immediately evident during interviews.
Analysis of all of our models and the affinity wall process greatly informed our findings and the recommendations. They also revealed evidence related to the positive and efficient aspects of the product development process and team discussed above.


Laura Andrews, Esti Brennan, Holly Little, Ben Mullins

Methods Used
Contextual Inquiry, Affinity Diagramming, User Interviews

Technology Used
Illustrator, Microsoft Project




4 months (Sep 2011 - Dec 2011)


User Research